Saturday, November 9, 2013

State of Decay - "There's nothing worse than a peasant with indigestion. Makes them quite rebellious."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - State of Decay - Details

Season 18, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #113) | Previous - Next | Index

via Not Tonight Dalek

When someone says they saw the Doctor Who with the vampires, you probably think of this one first, not "Vampires of Venice." (Hopefully not "Curse of Fenric," anyways.) It's a testament to how memorable this story is that's the case for me, at least. And, that's despite not having watched this one in over twenty years and having watched the Matt Smith vampire story a few times much more recently.

That the Time Lords battled giant space-faring vampires in the distant past, when even Rassilon was young, and defeated them by flying 'bow ships' into their hearts, all sounds pretty epic, but probably doesn't account for why every planet has a vampire mythology unless we make ancient Gallifrey line up historically with fairly recent Earth history. Timeline quibbles are not my cup of tea though, so let's chalk our vampire legends up to something else, or imagine we've got some Turlough-style race memory in our DNA from back when our ancestors were single-celled organisms. The Doctor has heard the legends and is afraid, that's enough to get us off to a good start, the atmosphere and theatrics carry us the rest of the way.

The real rough go here is our new addition from the previous story. Adric awkwardly strut-shambles out of his stowaway hidey-hole in the TARDIS early on and threatens to torpedo the endeavor just by looking like Matthew Waterhouse is trying way too hard to walk and act at the same. Luckily Baker and Ward play well together and the supporting cast is willing to go along with the gothic sci-fi atmosphere -- which here means vamping it up hard core. These vampires are so freaking camp it's hilarious; yet somehow it works.

Miles better than the first E-Space story, this one succeeds against all odds, despite the special effects failures at the end. Dr. Sandifer is spot on when he observes:
... the fact of the matter is that if you watch the stories back to back there are obviously some basic technical things that Pyramids of Mars is solid on that State of Decay isn’t. And this keeps being true of the Nathan-Turner era. With maddening frequency it soars on advanced topics in television production while crashing and burning on the basics.
I happen to love "Pyramids of Mars," one that the more highbrow fan-critics tend to dismiss, favoring the direction the show takes under Nathan-Turner and, more relevantly script editors Bidmead and, later, Cartmel. Now, I started this blogging project with the premise that JN-T ran the show into the ground, mercilessly pounding fandom with shitty synthesizers, cheesy f/x, crappy costumes, terrible make-up, brutal lighting, pretentious writing, and general incompetence at television show production. That's how I remembered it as a fan who watched it in real-time. I'm coming around to an appreciation of what Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy did with what they were handed (was always fond of Davison, but it's actually his star that may be dimming the most as I re-watch his years) and am finding I'm able to look past the gaudy production values failures to tease out the things that were ambitious, and occasionally even successful in those last few years. However, I suspect I'll never be able to sign on to Dr. Sandifer's assessment that it ever soared on advanced topics.

Happily, this one is also #43 in the Shabogan Graffiti series of recent posts presenting moments from the series in bite-sized, almost poetic, bits of Marxist analysis. If I could think of any way to improve on how to pull the thread of criticism of the parasitic ruling classes from this story, I'd make a go of it, but Mr. Graham has it well in hand.

Vampires via The Doctor Who Bar
It's worth noting this isn't a publicity still where the actors were instructed
to pose ridiculously, this is a capture from a scene in the show where the front
and center vampire delivered his evil monologue while his King
and Queen pulled I'm-an-evil-vampire-monarch faces behind him.
Because that's how they roll.


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